through the testimony, arms folded. Then Neill, a redheaded man whose twerpy, early-adolescent persona recalls the days of spitballs and bra-strap plucking, presented what might generously be called an argument, to the effect that it would make sound business sense to divest. Committee chairman Will Davis pointed out that in the exhibit passed around to the members by Bradley and Neill themselves, Bloomberg, Deutsche Bank, and a number of other financial services recommended holding Disney stock, with no one advising to the contrary. But with two votes to divest and two abstentions, the proposal passed out of committee that afternoon and was approved by the majority of the board the following day, resulting in the sale of the P.S.F.’s $43 million of Disney stock. The right’s “victory” was a partial one. Media coverage of the divestment vote was hardly in depth, but the organized response from T.F.N. and several state legislators earned enough column inches to influence public opinion. S.B.O.E. member Rene Nufiez \(who, because he is running for re-election this fall against religious conservative Donna Ballard, decided to abstain from the ment issue. Early on, said Nuflez, “they were mostly on the sell side … but when the press started addressing it, then I started getting a lot on the other side.” More significantly, the vote further polarized the S.B.O.E. Over the past four years, the Board has been transformed from a relatively quiet and cordial institution into a theater of rancorous debate and grandstanding, thanks to the presence of five religious conservative members who act in lockstep, and apparently according to the recommendations of the Eagle Forum representative who sits in on board meetings and continually passes notes to these members. “They just wear on you, and wear on you, and wear on you, and are never satisfied,” says Nuliez. It’s not just the Democrats they’re wearing on. Board chairman Jack Christie, a pro-life Republican, says he agreed to put the divestment question on the agenda after “some of the Republican members” assured him the debate would be a quiet one. That promise was not kept, says Christie, who criticizes the current “extremism” on the board. “Most of the House, just about any of the leadership in this state don’t agree with them. That tells you something right there.” “I’m a conservative Republican, and that’s never changed,” Christie says. “With their attacks, they try to get me to change, to get down in the gutter with the extremists, but I’m not going to do it.” Ultimately, the divestment campaign was a muscle-flexing exercise on the part of the board’s five-member ultraconservative bloc, and ultimately it was this which the Texas Freedom Network showed up to protest: not the boycott of Disney per se, but the ability of a small clique to wield considerable influence over Texas public schools, and to subordinate the interests of the state’s students to the agenda of the American Family Association. If T.F.N.’s response, while effective, seemed a bit rushed, it was perhaps because its founder and director, Cecile Richards, happened to be out of town when the divestment fight came to a head. This month Richards is resigning and moving to Washington, D.C., where her husband, Kirk Adams, has taken a job as the director of organizing for the national AFL-CIO. A Cecile Richards and Samantha Smoot Alan Pogue The Freedom Network got its start early one fall morning back in 1994, when Richards was working on her mother Ann’s gubernatorial re-election campaign. A veteran labor organizer, she was standing at a Texas City plant gate during the arrival of the day shift, greeting workers and handing out campaign literature. “That morning I remember encountering folks who were so angry,” she says. “They all had a consistent message and a consistent theme that was, you know, the left wing had taken over the government, and that all our elected officials cared about was killing unborn babies and teaching our kids sex education in kindergarten…. That was when I really realized that the far right in the state of Texas had organized, had been delivering a message, obviously for several months and more likely for several years, that was going to dramatically affect the outcome of that election but also affect politics in the state.” That message “was effective not with the majority, but just in turning out that critical percentage of voters,” says Richards. “It influenced our race and a lot of other races as well. That’s what woke me up to what was happening.” After her mother lost the election to George W. Bush, Richards began studying the religious right more closely. She attended a Christian Coalition training meeting in Atlanta, whose focus was on how to take over local school boards. \(She was not the only outside observer present: “It was like what I imagine an S.D.S. meeting was like in the sixties, where there are so many C.I.A. operatives there you’re not sure who’s who. The guy sitting next to me was from the Human Rights Campaign Fund, there was someone else from the People for the American Way…. But it wasn’t just this supposed conspiracy; it was very much out in the open. This was their goal, to take over the local school boards and absolutely change the face of public education.” In early 1995, she and one assistant began working out of a storefront office in Austin. With a shoestring budget, the Freedom Network began assembling information on far right groups and connecting with people around the state. “The one thing I love 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 28, 1998
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